With the shamrock-adorned festivities of St Patrick’s Day upon us once more, the Tales from the Emerald Isle collection at SBS On Demand showcases some of Irish cinema’s greatest stories.
Stephen A. Russell

14 Mar 2022 - 9:38 AM  UPDATED 14 Mar 2022 - 7:32 PM


Saoirse Ronan’s star was already on the rise before she appeared in Irish director John Crowley’s sweeping immigration drama Brooklyn, having nabbed a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Atonement. But this was the moment she stepped into the spotlight, garnering the first of three Best Actress Oscar noms to date. She plays Rose, who leaves her small town for the promise of better opportunities in the famous New York borough in the 1950s. But she soon finds herself torn between both worlds in this heart-tugging story of the Irish diaspora.

Brooklyn is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


My Left Foot

He may be English, but acclaimed (and apparently retired) actor Daniel Day-Lewis scored the first of his hat trick of Oscars depicting real-life Irish writer and painter Christy Brown. The late Brown had cerebral palsy and mastered his celebrated craft using the toes of his left foot. Irish director Jim Sheridan’s debut feature is a sensitive portrayal of the artist’s life, drawing on Brown’s autobiography of the same name. Also look out for a great turn by Brenda Fricker as his mum, and The Fall guest star Hugh O’Conor as a younger Brown.

My Left Foot is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


Albert Nobbs

Glenn Close and co-star Janet McTeer were both up for acting Oscars in this hauntingly queer, emotionally nuanced film from Colombian director Rodrigo García. Set in late 19th century Dublin, it stars Close as the title character, a woman who wants more from life than strict gender roles allows and chooses to pass as a man to work as a hotel butler. There, she meets a like-minded soul in McTeer’s Hubert, a more emboldened woman masquerading as a male painter. A passion project for Close, she played the same role on stage in 1982 and co-wrote the screenplay, and her commitment glows throughout.

Albert Nobbs is now streaming at SBS On Demand.



Australian filmmaker Sophie Hyde taps American Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) and English actor Holliday Grainger (Tell it to the Bees) in this Dublin-set comic drama about two besties whose carefree life of over-indulging in drugs and general debauchery faces uncertainty when one decides to get married. Spikily adapted for the big screen by author Emma Jane Unsworth from her own novel, it’s a breath of anarchically fresh air that feminist columnist Caitlin Moran described as “Withnail [and I] for girls”.

Animals is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


The Commitments

If you were around in the ’90s, chances are you tapped your toes to the sassy tune of ‘Mustang Sally’ thanks to this cracking comedy from director Alan Parker (Fame, Bugsy Malone). Rather than being an ode to American R&B star Mack Rice, or his contemporary Wilson Pickett who made the song super-famous, it’s actually a joyous celebration of Dublin pub rock. Adapted from Roddy Doyle’s novel, it features a spectacular ensemble as a cover band whose white, working-class backgrounds are a world away from the song’s African-American origins, but who give it their all.

The Commitments is now streaming at SBS On Demand.



Brendan Gleeson is one of the finest Irish actors working today. He captivates as a good priest facing almost certain death in one of the country’s trademark pitch black ‘comedies’, Calvary. An unseen parishioner threatens to off him on a beach in weeks’ time, not because he is an evil man, but to hold the Catholic church to account for its sins. 

Calvary is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


Calm With Horses

The Killing of a Sacred Deer star Barry Keoghan continues his run of disturbingly freaky roles in this crime drama that pairs him with the equally impressive Cosmo Jarvis (Lady Macbeth, Peaky Blinders). Adapted from a short story by Colin Barrett, it casts them as enforcers for the sort of drug-dealing clan you really don’t want to get mixed up in. Only Jarvis’ jacked-up character Arm wants out, hoping to make a fresh start with his ex, as played by striking Raised by Wolves co-star Niamh Algar, and their young, autistic son who find peace in the company of horses. It’s a nice dream, but this is the kind of film you doubt leads to happily ever after, right from the start.

Calm With Horses is streaming at SBS On Demand from Tuesday 15 March.


The Hole In The Ground

If you’re after something seriously spooky, look no further than this chilling debut feature from Irish writer/director Lee Cronin. Bowing at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, it’s one of several scary movies recently drawing on the country’s creepy changeling myth: the chilling idea that faeries steal children, replacing them with menacing lookalikes. Seána Kerslake (who you can also see in the hilarious queer Irish movie A Date for Mad Mary) is excellent as the initially unwitting mum, with James Quinn Markey as her not quite right son who may or may not have emerged from a sinkhole in the woods.

The Hole In The Ground is now streaming at SBS On Demand.


The Secret of Kells

While we’re on the subject of magical creatures hiding out in the woods, this shimmering, visually lush Oscar-nominated animation from directors Nora Twomey and Tomm Moore also mines Celtic mythology to wonderful, if far more family-friendly, effect. Brendan Gleeson pops up again in an outstanding vocal performance as an abbot facing down a Viking invasion at the exact point in time that one of Ireland’s most sacred books, the medieval manuscript known as the Book of Kells, is being illustrated. Can the wolf-like faerie folk help out?

The Secret of Kells is now streaming at SBS On Demand.

Find more great Irish films, including Dancing at Lughasa, Kisses, Rosie, Never Grow Old, You’re Ugly Too, The Racer, Waking Ned, Zoo and This Must Be the Place, explore the Tales from the Emerald Isle Collection at SBS On Demand. 

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